East Asia
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Dr Zafar Jaspal |

President Donald Trump is on his East Asia trip. The primary objective of the tour is trade and investment. However, the strategic issues are more flashing during his visit. Since November 3, 2017, he has been walking a tightrope trying to keep the balance between economic and military objectives of United States in the region. Indeed, it is difficult to profess about the tangible outcome of the visit, today, but one can contemplate on the likely outcome of the tour.

He is meeting the Japanese, South Korea, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Philippines leadership during his 11 days regional tour to improve trade with these countries. He will also represent the United States in Association of Southeast Asian Nations 50th anniversary celebration on November 12, 2017. For boosting the United States military industrial complex revenues he is compelling both Japanese and South Koreans to purchase military hardware from American defence contractors.

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He called Tokyo to buy US antimissile batteries and Seoul to buy the nuclear submarine to counter the growing threat from North Korea and also to create more jobs for Americans. Trump stated in Japan: It’s a lot of jobs for us, and a lot of safety for Japan, and other countries that are likewise purchasing military equipment from us.” Perhaps, Tokyo and Seoul’s military hardware spree unleash destabilizing arms race in the region.

He is underplaying the South China Sea dilemma to engage China for trade and also securing President Xi assistance in resolving the North Korean nuclear weapons vertical proliferation challenge.

North Korea remains on President Trump nerves. He is reassuring Japan and South Korea that the United States remains committed to their military defence and also undertaking for the complete, verifiable, and permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile test and thermonuclear bomb explosion have worsened the strategic environment of the region. The upward trajectory in Pyongyang nuclear weapons is not only alarming for Japan and South Korea, but it is equally problematic for the United States. Therefore, Washington has been employing various means to cap and roll back North Koreas nuclear weapon program.

Precisely, President Trump’s bullying or coercive strategy does not impede North Koreans nuclear weapons programme. The United States is committed to providing positive security guarantees to Japan and South Korea. That’s why; both states, despite having latent nuclear weapons capability, are enjoying the status of non-nuclear weapon states. It is an open secret that once Tokyo and Seoul lost confidence in Washington’s nuclear security umbrella, both state would withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and manufacture their own nuclear weapons for their defence.

Read more: Trump issues a warning to North Koreans standing on their doorstep

Hence, to keep both states member of NPT, Washington reassures them that it is steadfast to protect them from the military aggression. President Trump reiterated his resolve to carry out the first strike against North Korea. It was reported that the United States B-1B bombers have flown off the North Korea’s coast, north of the demilitarised zone (DMZ) for the first time since the end of the cold war.

Trump will be arriving China to meet President Xi Jinping on November 9, 2017. He desires to secure more open trade with China that gives US businesses more access to Chinese markets.

Indeed, the threatening statements of President Trump and mega military exercise are perilous for the regional security. However, it is not certain that Washington would be successful in decapitating the Pyongyang command and control system or killing Kim Jong-un and his top leadership. If Americans decapitation strike fails, it would be catastrophic for the entire region. The failure of the decapitation strike entails the launch of devastating nuclear weapons on Seoul, Tokyo and United States bases in the region.

Importantly, the South Koreans are not comfortable with the Trump’s muscular policy. Though President Moon Jae-in distanced himself from Trump policy towards North Korea, yet agreed to buy weapons included nuclear submarine from the United States. Seoul weapons spree, certainly, unleash arms race in the region. On the other hand, Premier Shinzo Abe’s government affirms Trump’s muscular policy towards North Korea. 

Read more: Trump’s flattery won’t work with Xi Jinping

Trump will be arriving China to meet President Xi Jinping on November 9, 2017. He desires to secure more open trade with China that gives US businesses more access to Chinese markets. Though he describes Chinese President ‘a very good man’, yet it is difficult for him to ignore Beijing’s assertive South China policy. Trump administration has already been encouraging India to balance Beijing influence in Asia.

The primary objective of the tour is trade and investment. However, the strategic issues are more flashing during his visit. 

The strategic competition in the South China Sea is not ignorable during his current visit to the region. Though, currently, he is underplaying the South China Sea dilemma to engage China for trade and also securing President Xi assistance in resolving the North Korean nuclear weapons vertical proliferation challenge. But he cannot conceal his administration’s military balancing strategy in the region. Washington is supportive to New Delhi’s ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategy in lieu of its traditional “Asia-Pacific”. 

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The Americans are facilitating India to assume a leadership role in China’s backyard without realizing the fact that India’s blue water Navy is immensely perilous for the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. To conclude, President Trump ongoing bellicose rhetoric does not alter the strategic environment of the region. However, he secures a few contracts for the American military contractors.

Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is also an advisor on Non-Proliferation to SASSI, London and a course coordinator at Foreign Services Academy for the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Email: jaspal_99@hotmail.com. This piece was first published in Pakistan Observer. It has been reprinted with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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